Giving up personal details is as stressful as a panic attack

A somewhat dramatic headline, isn’t it?! Our recent blog posts have focused on Tripping Points®. These are the moments of unexpected stress for customers. Let’s now dive in deeper to show you some of our own CX Lab research discoveries.

Stressful findings

In a series of recent experiments, we found that disclosing personal information is highly stressful for customers. We discovered that customers in mobile phone stores experienced stress levels 4.5 times higher than average when asked for their personal data. One customer unfortunately had a genuine panic attack at our CX Lab research facility.  However, an unexpected outcome was that the panic attack biometric data showed a surprising result.  The stress level was the same during the panic attack as it was during the request for personal data.

Over a third of customers in mobile phone and car retailers experienced their highest levels of anxiety when unexpectedly asked for personal data. These are huge Tripping Points®. And 40% of 94 biometrically-monitored customers visiting car and mobile phone retailers experienced the highest level of stress when asked for their personal information at the beginning of their contact with a sales assistant. We also observed that 50% of all shoppers aged under-35 deliberately gave false information about their home address.

Biometric research vs customer feedback

Biometric research

Biometric research in action

What’s interesting about our research is that the findings did not show up in traditional interviews. When we conducted one to one post shop interviews with all our customers, only one customer told us how uncomfortable she felt about disclosing personal data (such as her email address). However the biometric data clearly showed elevated levels of anxiety. (For example through increased heart rate, sweat rate, and body temperature). When calibrated with ethnographic monitoring (in this case wearable cameras), it was obvious to see the cause of the stress.

Why don’t customers report their discomfort? It’s a question we need to explore more. Our hypothesis is that, as with many other Tripping Points®, customers are not aware consciously of what is causing their anxiety.  Therefore, if asked, customers often misattribute it.

There’s an important implication for companies as they collect customer feedback. Vital pieces of customer insight may be missed if the brand only collects traditional feedback such as customer reviews, ratings, survey data, NPS data. Adding in even a small sample of biometric and ethnographic research enables you to get much closer to the drivers of customer behaviour.

Consumer mistrust

Our research experiments also highlight the link between customer trust and data. This is timely, given the EU GDPR data protection laws that are just about to be implemented. The climate of consumer opinion has changed a lot, just over the last 12 months. Consumers are increasingly distrustful about sharing data. Media coverage of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica Scandal have raised the public’s awareness about the use of their personal data.  There’s a well known saying, “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.”  Consumers are more and more aware of this.

Only one fifth of the UK public have trust and confidence in companies and organisations storing their personal information (Information Commissioner’s Office). Six out of 10 consumers admit that being asked to share personal data is likely to stop them from signing up to a new service or product, according to EY. Last week, consumers were asked by the Market Research society, ‘What’s the most important fact in gaining your trust?’  Keeping customers’ information secure topped the list.

How to improve the customer experience

GDPR currently generates a lot of activity as companies ensure that they will be legally compliant. However in addition to ensuring that data policies are up to date, there’s another piece of work to do. Take a close look at the behaviour of your front line employees when they ask customers for personal data. This applies to contact centres, retailers, hoteliers, and pretty much all services. Find out:

  • At what point in the customer journey do employees ask for data?
  • How do they ask?
  • Do they understand how the customer feels at this point?
  • What is the purpose of their request for information?
  • How can we improve this part of the customer experience?

Even a simple, “Are you on our mailing list?” or, “Can I email you your receipt?” request at the end of a transaction, can be stressful and annoying for customers. Many brands’ customer service models are highly prescriptive. They focus on command and control; telling employees what to do and say. (Which is then monitored via mystery shopping programmes). This is great for the operations director.  He can have the satisfaction of knowing that employees are compliant in ticking the box and getting customers signed up to a mailing list.  But it’s not good for creating a great customer experience and getting customers to love your brand.  Taking a customer focused approach means getting close to the customer and understanding them.  Biometric research to uncover Tripping Points® is one method to help achieve this.